Category Archives: Posttraumatic Growth Articles

Posttraumatic growth refers to the process whereby some individuals are able to not only able to overcome their traumatic experiences, but transcend them in such a way that their functioning as a human being is greatly elevated. The concise articles in this category examine this most exciting phenomenon, central to which is the ‘Adversity Hypothesis.’

The Main Elements Of Posttraumatic Growth

Many people, after suffering a terrible trauma, find that, once they have got through it and started to recover from its damaging psychological effects, they eventually reach a stage whereby they are able to use their adverse experiences to develop them as a person in highly positive ways that benefits both themselves and society at large. This has been termed by psychologists posttraumatic growth.

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After experiencing trauma comes a slow process of recovery (assuming effective therapy is sought); the length of time recovery takes will depend both upon the type, intensity and duration of the trauma, as well as the age the individual was when s/he experienced the trauma, and also the affected individual’s personal characteristics, temperament and genetic make-up.

Once the person who experienced the trauma is able to manage his/her painful and distressing emotions more effectively, finds memories of the trauma less difficult to cope with, and is able to function reasonably well on a day to day basis, a transition can start to take place in which the person begins the process of moving on from recovery into posttraumatic growth. Ideally, this period of growth and development should be guided and facilitated by an appropriately qualified and experienced therapist.

The process of posttraumatic growth involves taking stock of what happened and analysing its significance. The American Psychological Association identify ten key elements that the process involves :

1) re-establishing meaningful relationships with other people

2) accepting that change is an inevitable part of life

3) setting goals and starting to move towards them

4) taking decisive action

5) working on developing a positive self-view

6) learning from the past

7) good self-care

8) developing an optimistic outlook

9) seeking out opportunities for self-discovery

10) seeing crises as challenges rather than as insurmountable obstacles

OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH :

 

 

RETURN HOME TO ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA RECOVERY

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)..

Posttraumatic Growth – How Trauma can Positively Transform Us

‘Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.’

– Nietzsche

Much of the research into the effects of severe trauma has concentrated upon its NEGATIVE effects; indeed, a large proportion of the articles on this site have analysed such effects. However, as new research is showing that the experience of trauma can also have a positive transforming effect upon a person’s life, I thought I would redress the balance by including some articles, of which this is the first, on this new and exciting area of research which has been named POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH.

Research is showing that, rather than destroying a person’s life, severe trauma can lead, in the end, to people gaining new strength and wisdom, redefining them in a positive way.

There are many documented cases of such transformations taking place. One such example, often quoted in the literature about recovery from trauma, is that of a man named Leon Greenman, a Holocaust survivor who spent years in a concentration camp. Years after he was liberated, during the 1960s (in response to a fascist political organization called the National Front) he devoted his life to giving talks on his experiences and why what he endured must never happen again – in this way, he found great meaning and was able to use his appalling experiences to positive effect.

Trauma, then, can mark a great turning point in our lives. It can help us to become more true to ourselves, to look at the world from a fresh perspective and to take on new challenges.

We are not able to undo that which has happened, but we can choose what new directions it will take us in. Many people grow and develop following severe trauma, and it is only recently that studies have started to be conducted on this positive aspect of the change in us that trauma can lead to; up until now, research has concentrated very much upon the negative aspects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In fact, it is now being shown that trauma can act as a springboard to a higher level of functioning and growth – it seems, indeed, that the initial effects of trauma can be reversed and turned to our advantage. In this way, the negative and positive effects of trauma often go hand-in-hand. Posttraumatic growth is thought to be able to take place by the person making sense of what happened and then going on to find new meanings and understandings.

The new study of posttraumatic growth, then, focuses on how the suffering we endure as a result of trauma can positively transform our lives, rather than on just the suffering itself.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Posttraumatic Growth : Achieving Maslow’s ‘Self-Actualization’

posttraumatic growth and Maslow's self-actualization

Achieving Self-Actualization :

The concept of posttraumatic growth hinges on the idea that, although suffering trauma can be devastating, some individuals not only merely survive their traumatic experiences, but go on to achieve a higher level of personal development than they would have been able to obtain had these traumatic experiences not occurred in their lives.

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Above : Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

According to the psychologist Maslow (famous for his theory concerning the human hierarchy of needs), the highest level of human psychological need, and the hardest to attain, is what Maslow refers to as SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Below, I outline what he meant by this :

MASLOW’S CONCEPT OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION :

According to Maslow, very few individuals achieve ‘selfactualization’, but the characteristics of those who do are as follows :

People who have attained self-actualization are, according to Maslow, those who 

– feel grateful for things many may take for granted

– view problems as challenges

– make independent judgments based upon own experience rather than due to culture / societal trends

– are creative and original

– have just a few close / intense friendships rather than many relatively superficial relationships

– are comfortable being alone

– have an acute sense of humour (though not the type of humour that hurts others)

– are interested and curious about a wide range of things

– are democratic

–  are non-discriminating / nonprejudicial / accepting of other people’s differences

– are compassionate towards fellow members of society

– are spontaneous

– have the ability to derive child-like pleasure from becoming engrossed in simple activities

– are self-accepting (including accepting their weaknesses and faults – therefore not defensive and not in need of presenting and hiding behind false social image of being artificial / superficial)

– are authentic / true to oneself (as opposed to being unthinkingly and unreflectively conformist) / ability to resist and not be manipulated by social pressure

– have a strong sense of reality

– possess humanity

– possess humility

– have strong sense of purpose

– do not expend useless energy worrying about relatively trivial problems

– are focused upon personal growth and self – development rather than conventional and often hollow achievements such as wealth and status

Resource :

Meet Your Human Needs – SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE( FAHE)

 

How Posttraumatic Growth Relates to Coping Strategies

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It is possible, once the worst of the distress caused by trauma is over, to enter a period of posttraumatic growth (click here to read my article on this) in which the experience of our trauma can be used to POSITIVELY TRANSFORM US.

3 responses to trauma- ptsd, resilience, growth

How successful we are in achieving posttraumatic growth is significantly tied up with the coping strategies we employ in the aftermath of our traumatic experiences.

There are two main types of coping strategy ; these are :

1) APPROACH ORIENTED COPING (this strategy involves either changing the situation or managing the emotions we feel in relation to the trauma)

2) AVOIDANCE ORIENTED COPING (this strategy involves ignoring the problems and difficulties we are facing in as far as it is possible and distracting ourselves from them.

Much research has been conducted in relation to the relative effectiveness of these strategies and, as most of us would expect, it has been overwhelmingly shown that, over the long-term, approach oriented coping strategies are superior and lead to much greater posttraumatic growth.

Unfortunately, however, one of the key symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is that those who suffer from it have a very marked tendency to avoid anything connected to the trauma that they have experienced.

Avoidance coping strategies are not all bad and are likely to have some short-term benefits in many cases, such as helping to protect us until we are ready to confront the trauma which has affected us. In the long-term, however, denial and avoidance are unlikely to lead to posttraumatic growth.

Short-term avoidance can, then, be healthy as it can reflect the fact that the traumatic event was overwhelming and could not be immediately processed. indeed, in referring to the trauma that has been experienced people often use terms like, ‘it’s too big to take in’ or, ‘i can’t accept this has happened ; it can’t be real.’ etc.

However, if avoidance goes on for too long it can prevent the person from working through their problems and the emotions which relate to them. Recovery can be blocked, preventing posttraumatic growth.

It is therefore very helpful, when ready, to move on from using avoidance oriented coping strategies to using approach oriented coping strategies. Using the latter involves accepting what has happened, processing it and working through the emotions the trauma has given rise to. In short, it involves trying to manage the situation in which we now find ourselves.

choosing the direction of our lives after trauma

TWO TYPES OF APPROACH ORIENTED COPING :

1) TASK FOCUSED

2) EMOTION FOCUSED

Task focused coping involves simply working out and implementing as many practical solutions to the problem as possible. This will vary widely from one set of traumatic experiences to another.

Emotion focused coping involves managing our psychological distress.

How we perceive our situation will dictate which of the above two coping strategies we use. If we perceive that positive change is possible and within our control we are likely to use task focused coping strategies. If, on the other hand, we regard a change in our situation to be impossible, we are likely to take advantage of emotion focused coping strategies.

Often, because of the effect the trauma has had on how we think, we may falsely believe there is nothing we can do to improve our life, whereas, looked at objectively, there is. For those who feel this may apply to them, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be extremely helpful (click here to read my post on CBT).

One very important emotion focused coping strategy is to seek social support; such support may come from family, friends or professionals. By talking through our situation with others in our social support system we can gain new perspectives, new insights and new understanding which can lead to us positively transforming the meaning that our experience of the trauma has for us. This, in turn, leads to posttraumatic growth.

The quality of the social support we receive is more important than the quantity and it is ESPECIALLY HELPFUL WHEN IT HELPS TO MOTIVATE US TO START TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR OWN LIVES.

Also, the better we are able to express our emotions relating to our trauma within our social support system, the more our posttraumatic growth tends to flourish. Intense emotions such as FEAR, ANGER, SHAME, GUILT and RAGE can be VERY DESTRUCTIVE if we do not allow ourselves to talk them through and finally let go of them. Indeed, hanging on to such feelings is extremely likely to BLOCK RECOVERY. Our social support system (especially good professionals) can facilitate our letting go of such feelings.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Overcoming An Inferiority Complex Caused By Childhood Trauma

There are many ways that during our childhood our risk of developing an inferiority complex as adults can be increased. For example, certain types of parenting can increase this risk, such as over- controlling, over- critical, over-protective, over- demanding and/or emotionally neglectful parenting. Being brought up by such parents, or in a way which is psychologically destructive, can result in the young person developing: feelings of self-hatred, a defeatist thinking style, a generally negative attitude towards life, self-destructiveness, excessive and irrational self-blame, fear of failure, excessive sensitivity to failure and self-doubt in social situations.

Research also shows that any serious traumatic emotional distress experienced during childhood can, potentially, have similar effects.

The psychologist, Gilmor, identified six specific signs that an individual may have developed an inferiority complex. These six signs are as follows:

1- oversensitivity to criticism

2- a propensity to perceive oneself as being criticised, even when this is not the case

3- excessive reaction to flattery/’fishing for compliments’ or the opposite, namely having great difficulty accepting compliments/flattery

4- avoidance of others (due to not feeling good enough/interesting enough/ likeable enough etc to be in their company)

5- an inability to be a ‘gracious’ loser

6- a fondness for/ urges to ‘put others down’

 

Additionally, the psychologist, Nanka, suggested that that those with an inferiority complex had a tendency to believe/ claim/declare that they are ‘always right’ as well as a habit for always insisting that others agree with them.

Other research shows they may try to mask their feelings of inferiority behind a façade of arrogance, crave and seek high social status, be very materialistic (wanting to impress others by owning expensive cars, jewellery etc), crave and seek power/control/dominance over others, constantly seek approval and behave in a self-righteous manner.

The Compounding Effect Of Depression:

If an individual has developed an inferiority complex as a result of a difficult and traumatic childhood, such a person is also at an elevated risk of developing a depressive illness. Unfortunately, this can intensify feelings of inferiority as it is known that depressed people tend to develop a distorted and unrealistically low opinion of themselves; in a depressed person’s mind his/her shortcomings become exaggerated whilst his/her skills and abilities are minimised, dismissed or ignored.

Due to the above a vicious circle can easily develop: the depression leads to feelings of low self-worth, self-hatred etc which in turn serves to accentuate the depression…and so on…and so on…

 

Possible Subconscious Reasons For Self -Criticism:

The idea has also been put forward that there can be subconscious reasons or ulterior momotives why we criticise ourselves in ways often associated with having an inferiority complex. These include:

1  – to gain sympathy

2 – to appear humble/modest

3 – because we think self-deprecation is somehow charming or endearing

4 – as an expression of guilt

5 – to avoid responsibility (e.g. by saying: ‘I’d really love to help, but I’m useless at that kind of thing’)

6 – to discourage others from criticising us (‘getting in there first’)

7 – to encourage others to admit their faults too

8 – avoid disappointment (e.g. ‘I’ll never pass that exam’)

9 – to motivate ourselves to do better (think John McEnroe berating himself on the tennis court). Indeed, being highly self-critical and/or having feelings of inferiority drives some people on to achieving great success – such people are driven by an overwhelming need to prove themselves to others.

 

Possible Remedies For An Inferiority Complex:

1) Stop being a perfectionist and accept weaknesses as part of our humanity

2) Work hard to improve particular areas of weakness

3) Become very good at one particular thing to compensate for weaknesses or feel less bad about having them

4) Understand the source of our feelings of inferiority (eg.  grew up being ridiculed by parents) and seek appropriate therapy (eg. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)/ utilize self-help

 

Resources:

CONFIDENCE ONLINE TRAINER COURSE : Click here for further details.

STOP FEELING INFERIOR PACK :  Click here for further details.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Posttraumatic Growth – Reconstructing The Life Story We Tell Ourselves

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We make sense of our lives by telling ourselves a story about it – however, this does not mean the story we tell ourselves reflects reality, not least because how we act and behave are often motivated by unconscious processes of which, by definition, we are unaware.

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Those who have suffered abusive childhoods very often grow up to believe that they are a ‘bad’ person (click here to read my article in which I explain why this is). Usually, this is the case because they are telling themselves an inaccurate life story (for example, part of the story they tell themselves might be : ‘I deserved to be badly treated as a child because I am a bad person’).

However, in order to recover from the effects of a traumatic childhood, and to start to enter a phase of posttraumatic growth, we need to adjust the story we tell ourselves; this can be achieved by understanding that our bad treatment in childhood was not our fault and that our adult behaviours, which might have been highly self-destructive, have their roots in our childhood experiences.

So, to slightly extend the example above,let’s suppose that the story we have been telling ourselves to make sense of our lives boils down to :

‘I was badly treated as a child because I am a bad person. My adult behaviour confirms that I am a bad person.’ (Old story)

However…

once we understand and make sense of our traumatic experiences, what has happened in our lives takes on a whole new meaning, allowing us to reconstruct our life story to, for example :

‘The bad treatment I received as a child was not my fault. Problem behaviours that I have developed as an adult, resulting from my traumatic experiences, are understandable and forgivable. How I have been feeling and behaving as an adult is a NORMAL REACTION TO ABNORMAL EXPERIENCES. (New adjusted/reconstructed story we need to tell ourselves about our lives to allow posttraumatic growth to take place)

This new understanding of what has really happened in our lives is often a source of great relief and we need to ensure this enlightenment becomes a FUNDAMENTAL part of the new life story that we tell ourselves.

Changing our view of our life story in this way will NOT mean we suddenly become completely free of emotional distress; however, it can mark a point at which we can start to recover, and, with sufficient posttraumatic growth, become a much stronger and, indeed, thriving person.

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

Posttraumatic Growth – Techniques to Help Keep Remaining Symptoms of Trauma Under Control

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I have stated before that just because we have entered the phase of posttraumatic growth, this does not mean symptoms of trauma have been completely eradicated. Therefore, in order to be able to maximize the potential of our posttraumatic growth, it is very useful to know about techniques to manage re-emerging symptoms resulting from our experience of trauma, so that they interfere with our recovery as little as possible.

THE TECHNIQUES :

So, if, during our recovery/posttraumatic growth, we feel our symptoms are re-asserting themselves, we can employ the use of the following techniques:

– avoid interpersonal conflict (eg do not allow ourselves to be drawn into energy sapping and demoralizing arguments)

– talk to others about how we are feeling

– take as much time as possible for relaxation (eg gentle exercise,meditation, warm bath)

– indulge in as many enjoyable and pleasurable activities as possible, WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT (see the activities as a form of necessary therapy)

– treat ourselves with compassion and do not blame ourselves for the effect the trauma has had on us

– keep to a routine; this is very important as it gives us a sense of predictability, control, safety and security

– make use of any social support systems as much as possible (eg friends, family, support groups). Research shows that those with a strong social support network in place cope better with the effects of traumatic experiences

– remember that many individuals who experience significant trauma find that ,once they have come through it, they have gained much inner strength and have greatly developed as people with a much deeper appreciation of life than they had before the traumatic experience/s occurred

– try not to avoid situations which remind you of the original trauma, where at all possible,as this is an effective way of overcoming the fear associated with such situations; avoidance keeps the problem going

– keep reminding yourself that human beings are extremely resilient; many people throughout the ages have been through appalling experiences yet have become stronger people as a result

– it important to remember that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness or failure

Note : the above suggestions are based on advice given by the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Posttraumatic Growth : An Existential Perspective

existential crisis

posttraumatic existential growth

We have seen from other articles that I have published in the ‘Postraumatic Growth’ section (see MAIN MENU at the top of this page) of this site that it is not only possible to recover from the adverse effects of trauma but even to go on to develop as an individual in response them in ways that would not have been possible had the traumatic events not occurred.

The concept of posttraumatic growth is closely related to existential philosophy / psychology. Yalom (1980) asserts that the four fundamental existential concerns that mankind faces are :

DEATH

FREEDOM

ISOLATION

MEANINGLESSNESS

Whilst most people go through life without dwelling on these four existential concerns too deeply (distracted as they are by life’s more superficial and mundane problems), there are certain life events that can bring them sharply into focus, including what Yalom refers to as a ‘COLLAPSE IN MEANING-MAKING SCHEMAas may occur as a result of severely traumatic experiences. (The term schema refers to the mental models we construct that help us make sense of / interpret the world around us. To read my article : ‘Childhood Trauma Leading To The Development Of Negative Schema’, click here.)

existential crisis

Yahom suggests that when a person becomes aware of one (or more) of these existential concerns as a result of trauma, s/he will enter a state of anxiety (i’e’ s/he will experience as EXISTENTIAL CRISIS).

Crucially, however, Yahom states, how long this state of anxiety lasts, together with its intensity, determines whether or not the individual who experiences the existential crisis a result of his / her traumatic experiences enters :

A) A positive state of posttraumatic growth 

or

B) A negative state of psychopathology

If s/he is fortunate enough to enter a positive state of posttraumatic growth, the individual can experience a profound sense of renewed meaning in life.

In relation to existential concerns, this may involve a far deeper appreciation of life given a more vivid awareness of one’s mortality and how precarious human existence is (specifically, this is connected to the existential concerns of meaning and death).

Or, to provide another example, a person may realize, given life’s brevity and uncertainty, s/he should make the free choice to live life more authentically, perhaps involving a radical change of career, lifestyle and social acquaintances (specifically, this is connected to the existential concerns of death and what to do with one’s freedom of choice).

A third example would be that of a person who finds a new, meaningful cause, related to the traumatic experience s/he suffered, to work for in life, such as a person who survived a highly disturbed childhood deciding to undertake helping disturbed children as his/her vocation (specifically, this is connected to the existential concern of finding meaning in life, and, thus, overcoming an existing, perceived state of meaninglessness).

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

Posttraumatic Growth : The Importance Of Relationships And Social Support

posttraumatic growth relationships social support

INTRODUCTION :

Human beings are naturally social animals and it is a basic and fundamental instinct for us to try to bond, connect and form attachments with others; the benefits we may gain from such relationships to others when we have experienced trauma include providing us with :

  • a greater sense of meaning in life
  • a greater sense of safety
  • a greater sense of belonging
  • a greater sense of affirmation / self-worth
  • someone to confide in
  • someone to advise us about coping strategies
  • someone to help us understand and process what has happened to us
  • someone who can help us look at what has happened from a new and original perspective
  • someone who can help distract us from our negative ruminations and feelings
  • someone who can help to emotionally sooth us

 

What Does The Research Say?

 

Our relationships with others significantly influence how we cope with and respond to trauma ; the researchers Calhoun and Tedeschi (2006) suggested that specific reasons as to why this should be so included the following :

  • other people may positively alter how we view the world and how we interpret and perceive events
  • other people may introduce us to additional coping methods
  • other people may provide us with social support

Other researchers (e.g. Cordova et al., 2001  Leopore and Revenson, 2006) suggest that relationships with others in which we feel safe to make emotional disclosures may be of particular value.

Leopore and Revenson also suggest that our relationships with others can help with how we respond to trauma in the following ways :

  • weakening the connection between the trauma and negative emotional responses and replacing them with positive emotional responses
  • helping us to regulate (control) our negative emotions connected to the trauma by shifting our focus of attention
  • helping us to habituate to negative emotions connected to the trauma
  • facilitating positive cognitive reappraisals in relation to the trauma

  • Through his research, Weiss (2004) found that those who had suffered traumatic experiences can benefit in particular by having social relations with others who have also lived through trauma and who have not only coped with it, but have also experienced posttraumatic growth in response to their traumatic experiences and can, therefore, act as role-models.

 

  • Schroevers et al., (2010) conducted research suggesting that having other people to help the individual who has suffered trauma cognitively process information connected with the traumatic experience can also be of significant be

 

  • Those with access to good social support systems tend to have both a better sense of general emotional wellness (Henderson and Brown,1988) and lower levels of depression (Lara et al.,1997) when compared to those individuals who lack social support.

 

  • Having good social support not only improves our psychological health, but also has benefits for our physical health such as strengthening our immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser, 1992).

 

Perception Of Social Support Versus Actual Social Support :

Research has also found that even if, by any reasonable, objective measure, we are receiving adequate social support during and after traumatic periods its benefits will be greatly diminished if we do not perceive it as adequate ; for example ; if we perceive someone we are close to as being non-receptive when we confide in him/her information about our traumatic experience – irrespective of whether they actually are non-receptive – our sense of emotional well-being will be diminished (Cordova et al., 2001).

From such research we are able to infer that in order for us to have a significantly increased chance of coping with trauma and experiencing posttraumatic growth, it is not necessarily enough to receive adequate social support – we must, too, believe that those providing this support genuinely care about us.

The Importance Of Avoiding Negative And Critical Social Interaction :

Research also suggests that, in the aftermath of trauma, it is at least as important (and, perhaps, even more important), to avoid negative and critical social interaction in the aftermath of trauma as it is to find positive support if one wishes to experience posttraumatic growth.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Trauma Recovery And Spirituality

It is not necessary to have a religious faith to be spiritual. But what do we mean by the term SPIRITUALITY?

Being a non – religious but spiritual person means we do not need to ‘buy into’ particular religious texts, systems of belief or traditions which have been passed on from generation to generation over many, many centuries. Indeed, free from such restrictive shackles, we are liberated to go about our spiritual practice in a way which is unique to us, if we so choose.

Our spiritual belief might involve belief in something far more intelligent than us but which we are so far unable to understand (and we certainly do not need to refer to such an entity as ‘god’).

 

People who are spiritual often report that being so :

– helps them to find meaning and purpose in life

– helps them during periods of suffering

– helps them to cope with the death of loved ones

– helps them to come to terms with the prospect of their own death

– helps them learn and develop in response to mistakes and suffering, rather than being defeated by them

– helps them recover from traumatic experiences

– helps with fears concerning the possibility of ‘life after death’

– helps them if they feel the need for forgiveness or the need to forgive others

– helps them develop their creativity

– helps them to become kinder, more patient and more compassionate

– helps them to develop empathy

– helps them to develop better judgement.

 

Many people who are spiritual report becoming more aware of the RECIPRICOL element of life (ie we tend, to some extent at least, to ‘reap what we sow’).

Also, those who are spiritual often find that they are more able to draw on their own suffering to effectively help others. Thus, suffering becomes less meaningless.

 

SPIRITUAL PRACTICES INCLUDE :

– meditation

– yoga

– Thi Chi

– sports that encourage the development of trust and cooperation

– appreciating nature, its beauty, exquisite complexity and ability to inspire feelings of awe

– contemplative reading (literature, poetry, philosophy)

– forming deeper relationships/friendships

– appreciation of the arts

– creative activities (e.g. painting, gardening, cooking)

– volunteering to help others

 

SPIRITUALLY INFORMED THERAPIES INCLUDE :

– MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy)

CFT (compassion focused therapy)

– forgiveness therapy

–  yoga

Carl Jung

Carl Jung (1875-1961) was the founder of analytic psychology and regarded spirituality as an essential part of his work. He did not subscribe to any one, traditional religion. Indeed, he believed that fundamentalist and dogmatic religions inhibit spiritual growth, rather than enhance it.

Instead, he stressed the importance of the the person’s individual experience in spiritual growth (including the experiencing numinous events) and of discovering one’s true self (which Jung regarded as the most complete, fulfilled, integrated, balanced and effective individual that we can be – although, it has to be said, he also stated that very few people were ever able to attain this optimum state, rather as Maslow believed very few could ever ascend to the state of self-actualization in the hierarchy of human needs.

 

Pain, Suffering And Trauma Can Help Us Discover Our True Selves, According To Jung :

Jung also believed that our discovery of our ‘true selves’ involved a process of ‘individualization’ that was often a very protracted, extremely painful and traumatic experience.

In order to emphasize just how excruciatingly painful this process could be, he compared it to initiation tests that are undertaken by members of shamanic tribes. These initiation tests can be nearly fatal but are intended to bring about a new spiritual awareness, allowing the individuals who endure them to become spiritual teachers and healers.

In essence, Jung viewed such a process as akin to ‘death and rebirth’ and he points out that such ‘death and rebirth’ processes are central to many religions and traditions, including the death and resurrection of Jesus ; ancient Egyptian myths in which the god dies and is then reborn ; the mythical process of alchemy in which base metals are broken down and reformed into precious metal.

Related to this latter example (the mythical process of alchemy) is the SHATTERED VASE THEORY OF POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH, and, related to the more general idea that extreme suffering may lead to spiritual development is the ADVERSITY HYPOTHESiS (though neither of these are directly connected To Jung) and I describe both of these below :

 

 

SHATTERED VASE THEORY OF POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH :

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first incorporated into the third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM III – (sometimes informally referred to as the psychiatrists’ bible) in 1980.

Although, without appropriate and effective therapy, PTSD can devastate lives (including, of course, variants of PTSD resulting from severe childhood trauma), as the disorder has become increasingly studied by clinicians it has also become more and more apparent that some individuals affected by the disorder not only overcome their suffering, but, also, report positive changes to their lives that have derived from working through the effects of their traumatic experiences ; indeed, many have reported  that they went on to function better, and extract more meaning and fulfilment from life, than they had been able to prior to developing PTSD.

As a result of this discovery (i.e. that some individuals not only recover from PTSD but go on to thrive), the psychologists Tedeschi and Calhoun coined the term POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH (PTG). Indeed, studies now suggest that up to seventy per cent of those who have suffered from severe trauma may, at least, gain some significant benefit from their experience. Such benefits frequently include the following :

  • a greater appreciation of the importance of supportive relationships
  • an awareness of their courage and mental strength (as demonstrated by having survived extreme adversity)
  • a deeper appreciation of life and a determination to ‘seize the day’

The ‘Shattered Vase’ Metaphor :

The ‘shattered vase‘ metaphor was devised by the psychologist, Professor Stephen Joseph. It is based on the idea that after a severely traumatic experience we can feel as if our lives have been ‘shattered’ and that our very being has become fragmented.

However, just as one could rearrange the broken pieces of the shattered vase into a new work of art, such as a mosaic or sculpture, so too, suggests Joseph, may we be able to ‘rebuild’ ourselves.

Like the shattered vase refashioned into a different art piece, our ‘rebuilt’ self will also be different from the original, but may well possess new qualities that did not exist in our former selves, such as those listed above. Indeed, the new, rebuilt self may well be a significant improvement upon the old one and as such would constitute posttraumatic growth.

We can, therefore, draw some solace from the shattered vase metaphor, even if our suffering has been great.

 

THE ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS :

 


The vast majority of studies examining the effects of trauma on the individual have concentrated on the negative effects such as depression, anxiety, phobias, flashbacks, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so on. However, more recently, an increasing number of studies have focused on how the experience of trauma may, in some ways, actually benefit us.

Indeed, the ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS puts forward the proposal that adversity and suffering are necessary for optimum human development.

Closely linked to the adversity hypothesis is the concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG).

 

The theory of posttraumatic growth suggests that some individuals who undergo traumatic experiences find that they grow and develop as a person in beneficial ways once the trauma is over. These benefits often include :

  1. Discovering/developing strengths and abilities that weren’t apparent prior to the traumatic experience and becoming a more confident person as a result.
  2. Feeling stronger as a person in the knowledge one can survive great difficulty and suffering.
  3. Developing a greater appreciation of life once the trauma is over.
  4. Strengthening of pre-existing valuable and meaningful friendships/bonds/relationships (the colloquial expression ‘finding out who your real friends are’ is of relevance here).
  5. Gaining of a better perspective on life.
  6. Gaining insight into life’s priorities and what one really wants to do with it to make it fulfilling – often leading to decisive and positive life-change.
  7. Gaining a deeper insight into life in general leading to spiritual growth and development.

Indeed, there may well be other benefits, but the above list represents the main ones so far highlighted by the research carried out to date.

It is also worth noting that research carried out by Pennebaker (1990) suggests that if we are able to ‘make sense of’ our traumatic experiences in a way that is meaningful to us we are particularly likely to benefit from posttraumatic growth.

Also, research by Helgeson (2006) suggests that individuals are most likely to start to benefit from posttraumatic growth if their traumatic experiences ceased two years ago or more.

COPING PROCESS OR OUTCOME?

Whether posttraumatic growth represents an active coping process or is a more passive outcome of the experiencing of trauma (or, indeed,  is a combination of the two) is still a matter of debate amongst psychologists; notwithstanding this, not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences posttraumatic growth.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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